Writer-director Jane Campion, whose best-known film is the award-winning "The Piano," takes on the subject of the romance between British poet John Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne in "Bright Star."

New Zealand born writer-director Jane Campion is no stranger to prestigious awards. Her best-known film, “The Piano,” earned her a Golden Palm at Cannes and an Oscar for the screenplay. Earlier this year she was again nominated for that top honor at Cannes for her newest film, “Bright Star,” a quietly passionate study of the romance between British poet John Keats (played by Ben Wishaw) and his neighbor, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).

But Campion, now an Australian resident who hasn’t made a film since the erotic “In the Cut” in 2003, always has been and still remains rather cynical about the Hollywood movie machine and its prizes.

“I think you have to be a little bit,” said Campion at the Toronto International Film Festival. “There are parts of the industry that I’m really deeply thrilled to be a part of. When you’re working with the actors, when you’re working together, when you’re going beyond your limits, you’re discovering stuff that’s really exciting. I think however, you mustn’t take the Oscars seriously. It’s a kind of pantomime.

“Of course, we’re keen to take part in the pantomime,” she added, laughing. “You want people to see your films. It’s all part of the game.”

Drinking a cappuccino, her long white hair twisted into a ponytail, a peace sign necklace around her throat, Campion, 55, saw her first success with “Sweetie” in 1989. But it wasn’t till “The Piano” in 1993 that she became a darling of the art house set.

Her method of making films starts with an idea coming to her, following that with lots of research, then settling in at her getaway house to write the script in longhand.

“No computer, no Internet, no telephone, no TV,” said Campion. “You cry, you throw yourself on the bed, you walk around. You just do everything. It’s terrific fun.”

“Bright Star” came about when Campion decided, shortly after she turned 50, that it was time to get over her fear of poetry.

“I started to read Andrew Motion’s biography of Keats,” she recalled. “And Keats, who’s robustly anti-romantic, and laughing at his friends who fall in love, and also thinking himself an ill candidate for romance because he was only 5-foot tall, met Fanny, who was 5-foot as well. So they must have recognized each other as a perfect pairing.”

Her interest in the story grew as she found out more about each of her characters as well as their relationship together.

“Keats was a very funny and playful guy,” explained Campion. “And Fanny was very witty and chatty, but she had no interest in poetry. They were neighbors and friends, so they got a lot of opportunity to see each other, and soon this repartee started up between them.”

By the time Campion got to reading the love letters that Keats sent to Brawne, she began thinking there was a film in it.

“I found myself so moved,” she said. “I think it was the purity and innocence of what they went through, and the courage and pain they went through. We have more intimacy in this love story than you could have with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.”

Letting out a big laugh at that remark, she added, “We don’t know what they write to each other, but we know what these guys wrote. And I found sort of a new level of tenderness in me from having read the story. I was just sobbing at the end of it, and I thought, ‘These are some of the important feelings in human beings.’”

Campion’s biggest triumph in the film is the way she captured that intimacy between the two lead actors. Her plan was to make them very real, very believable.

“It’s like persuading them that they don’t need to perform, persuading them that there’s a kind of alchemy that’s going to happen between their personal charisma and the character that they’re playing,” she said. “It’s about relaxation, I think. During rehearsals, when people were trying to do things, my attention just strayed. But then they could be doing something terribly simple, like just listening, and it was really interesting to me. So it was sort of in my body what I was looking for. I was waiting for them to relax.”

“Bright Star” opens Friday.

The Patriot Ledger